Washington seeks out like minds on climate change

Protestors disrupted the only public event staged by the United States at the UN meeting in Bonn, singing songs against fossil fuels and drowning out speakers. (Geoff Hill, M&G)

Protestors disrupted the only public event staged by the United States at the UN meeting in Bonn, singing songs against fossil fuels and drowning out speakers. (Geoff Hill, M&G)

Washington has spent the week seeking out like minds at a climate-change conference that ended last night in Germany.

COP 23 – the 23rd United Nations “conference of parties” to the Paris Accord on global warming – took place in Bonn, one-time capital of Germany, with close on 20 000 delegates from governments along with NGOs and journalists.

US chief representative at the meeting, David Banks, who serves as an advisor on energy to the White House said there was no going back on his country pulling out of the deal on climate change.

“President Trump still intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement, but in good faith we will continue to work with parties to the accord,” he said. “There are 1 600 new coal plants being built around the world, and demand for coal and gas is growing. It’s in the global interest that, if these fuels are going to be used anyway, it must be done as cleanly as possible.”

America, he said, wanted to remain a “global player” on energy, citing plans for a “clean coal alliance” that would share the best technology to lower emissions.

The US delegation named Australia, India and Japan as possible “partner countries” along with Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

“Keeping gas and coal in the ground robs poor countries of their natural wealth,” Mr Banks said.
“And universal access to affordable energy is the way to lift people out of poverty,” he said.

He said migration and young people drifting into militia groups were largely a product of joblessness in Africa, “and having no electricity and therefore no industry is far more of a problem in people’s lives right now than climate change.”

He said more than 1.2 billion people around the world lived without power, half of them in Africa and an estimated 300 million across India.

“The United States would like to see the World Bank policy on coal changed,” he said. The bank will not lend for projects that generate electricity from coal, a ban criticised by Nigeria, India and South Africa.

A spokesperson for Eskom at COP 23 said South Africa would “be using fossil fuels for a very long time to come.”

A rival US group that called itself “We’re Sill In” held a reception for delegates, opposing Mr Trump’s stand on global warming and on leaving the Paris Accord.

And most of the other exhibits, set across halls, tents and walkways along the banks of the Rhine River that flows through Bonn, dealt with wind and solar power.

Anti-coal protestors disrupted the only public event staged by the US, singing songs and drowning out speakers.

Discussions between countries took place in closed session, and while negotiators—including the USA and South Africa—were happy to provide background to journalists, they had collectively agreed not to speak on the record.

A member of the Indian team said the meeting reminded him of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC.

“The oil sellers come together every now and then and agree how much they will produce to keep (the oil price) stable, then they cheat on each other. This might be the same protocol. Nations talk here about greenhouse (gas) and cutting emission and they pledge this and that but I wonder how many will stick to it.”

In the South African delegation, deputy energy minister Thembisile Majola – a qualified engineer – said it was “important to get past the sounds bites when it comes to issues like fracking or fossil fuel. I think you need to get on the ground and speak with communities,” she said.

David Banks said the White House was “still formulating its global energy policy,” but that Washington was determined to “remain engaged with other coal-dependent economies.”

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